Health breakthrough: new antibiotic found in almost 30 years!

A group of U.S. scientists have made a major health breakthrough by discovering a new antibiotic. It was discovered in a screen of uncultured bacteria and has been named Teixobactin. The study was published last week in the journal Nature.

Teixobactin could be the key in the fight against bacterial resistance (credit: Shutterstock)

Teixobactin could be the key in the fight against bacterial resistance (credit: Shutterstock)

Antibiotic resistance is spreading faster than our capability to produce new compounds. This has the potential to cause a public health crisis in the very near future – possibly in our lifetime. Just to put it into perspective, imagine a world where even routine procedures such as removing tonsils will not be as simple as they used to be just because we will not have antibiotics able to fight common infections.

The first antibiotic – Penicillin – was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and more than 100 compounds have been found since, but no new class has been found after 1987. Most antibiotics were produced by screening soil microorganisms, but this limited resource of cultivable bacteria was overmined by the 1960s. Synthetic approaches to produce antibiotics have been unable to replace this platform. Uncultured bacteria make up approximately 99% of all species in the external environments and are an untapped source of new antibiotics. Now the team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, have discovered a way to get to it by using an electronic chip to grow the microbes in the soil and then isolate their antibiotic chemical compounds.

Teixobactin is the first antibiotic to be discovered in nearly 30 years and has already been labelled as a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against the growing resistance of bacteria to drugs. Teixobactin works by inhibiting cell wall synthesis by binding to a highly conserved motif of lipid II (precursor of peptidoglycan) and lipid III (precursor of cell wall teichoic acid). Its properties suggest that there is a strong chance of developing antibiotics that are likely to avoid development of resistance. Teixobactin has been found to treat many common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis and septicaemia, while – promisingly – no mutants of Staphylococcus aureus or Mycobacterium tuberculosis were found to be resistant to it. Teixobactin could be available within five years – the time to get through clinical trials.

“Apart from the immediate implementation, there is also I think a paradigm shift in our minds because we have been operating on the basis that resistance development is inevitable and that we have to focus on introducing drugs faster than resistance” – Professor Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Centre said. “Teixobactin shows how we can adopt an alternative strategy and develop compounds to which bacteria are not resistant” – Professor Lewis added.

The scientists believe that bacteria will not become resistant to Teixobactin for at least 30 years because of its multiple methods of attack. Prof Laura Piddock, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Birmingham, said: “The screening tool developed by these researchers could be a ‘game changer’ for discovering new antibiotics as it allows compounds to be isolated from soil producing micro-organisms that do not grow under normal laboratory conditions”. Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, from the University of Edinburgh added: “Any report of a new antibiotic is auspicious, but what most excites me about the paper is the tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg. “Most antibiotics are natural products derived from microbes in the soil. The ones we have discovered so far come from a tiny subset of the rich diversity of microbes that live there”.

“The great hope is now that many more new antibiotics can be uncovered in a similar manner”. Dr Angelika Gründling, Reader in Molecular Microbiology at Imperial College London, concluded.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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